Although we’re long past the end of the season at this point, this is something I wanted to make sure to alert folks about, given that attendance remains a hugely important part of the Chicago Cubs’ financial picture in the short-term.
It’s no secret that the Chicago Cubs are a touch more popular this year than last, and neither is it a secret that, perhaps more than any other team, the Cubs’ ability to spend freely in the next decade+ is intimately tied to that popularity. With a trio of TV deals that expire after the 2019 season and a long-term deal looming, showing positive ratings – as the Cubs have done in spades this year – could go a long way to determining just how lucrative that next big deal will be.
But in the even nearer term – like, 2016 – the Cubs will be more reliant on positive gains in a much more flexible revenue stream: attendance.
Thankfully, attendance this year has reflected the Cubs’ popularity, and a race for the playoffs has ensured the butts keep filling the seats long after school went back into session. Through yesterday’s near-sellout, the Cubs have drawn 2,688,859 fans, and they’ve got seven home dates remaining (including a weekend series against the Pirates and an interleague makeup on Monday against the Royals). All of 2014 – a year in which attendance was up for the first time in a long time – the Cubs drew 2,652,113.
That spike in attendance, possibly even above what the Cubs were projecting coming into the season, will generate additional revenues for the organization that, after expenses, will be repurposed right back into baseball operations. (This is setting aside, for now, additional revenue increases the Cubs should see from escalations in their present TV contracts, additional sponsorship revenue, and other ancillary increases in revenue tied to interest in the team.)
So, then, where did things land at the end of the year (in spite of the bleachers being closed for a healthy chunk of the first two months of the season)?
Setting aside the playoffs (for which a great deal of the attendance revenue goes to MLB and players, and the remainder is ultimately split among the two teams playing), the Cubs drew 2,959,812 fans, a more than 300,000 increase over 2014. That’s the highest mark for the Cubs since 2011 (3,017,966), and was their largest single season increase since 1998(!). Revenues from the games, then, were undoubtedly up a very good clip in 2015.
Given the buzz associated with this past season, the Cubs will almost certainly see a significant spike in single game pre-sales when tickets become available early next year (not to mention near perfect season ticket retention and whatever increase in season tickets the Cubs want to permit). That, combined with a presumed ticket price increase (just expect it now), should see revenues associated with attendance increase even further in 2016, and the Cubs will be able to project the same.
No, the Cubs aren’t quite where they’ll be in a few years, in terms of luxury-tax-level spending ability, but they should definitely have the flexibility to do the things they want to do this offseason, within reason.